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Python-based Oblivious RAM

Project description

Python-based Oblivious RAM (PyORAM) is a collection of Oblivious RAM algorithms implemented in Python. This package serves to enable rapid prototyping and testing of new ORAM algorithms and ORAM-based applications tailored for the cloud-storage setting. PyORAM is written to support as many Python versions as possible, including Python 2.7+, Python 3.4+, and PyPy 2.6+.

This software is copyright (c) by Gabriel A. Hackebeil (

This software is released under the MIT software license. This license, including disclaimer, is available in the ‘LICENSE’ file.

This work was funded by the Privacy Enhancing Technologies project under the guidance of Professor Attila Yavuz at Oregon State University.

Why Python?

This project is meant for research. It is provided mainly as a tool for other researchers studying the applicability of ORAM to the cloud-storage setting. In such a setting, we observe that network latency far outweighs any overhead introduced from switching to an interpreted language such as Python (as opposed to C++ or Java). Thus, our hope is that by providing a Python-based library of ORAM tools, we will enable researchers to spend more time prototyping new and interesting ORAM applications and less time fighting with a compiler or chasing down segmentation faults.


To install the latest release of PyORAM, simply execute:

$ pip install PyORAM

To install the trunk version of PyORAM, first clone the repository:

$ git clone

Next, enter the directory where PyORAM has been cloned and run setup:

$ python install

If you are a developer, you should instead install using:

$ pip install -e .
$ pip install nose2 unittest2

Installation Tips

  • OS X users are recommended to work with the homebrew version of Python2 or Python3. If you must use the default system Python, then the best thing to do is create a virtual environment and install PyORAM into that. The process of creating a virtual environment that is stored in the PyORAM directory would look something like:

    $ sudo pip install virtualenv
    $ cd <PyORAM-directory>
    $ virtualenv local_python2.7

    If you had already attempted to install PyORAM into the system Python and encountered errors, it may be necessary to delete the directories build and dist from the current directory using the command:

    $ sudo rm -rf build dist

    Once this virtual environment has been successfully created, you can activate it using the command:

    $ . local_python2.7/bin/activate

    Then, proceed with the normal installation steps to install PyORAM into this environment. Note that you must activate this environment each time you open a new terminal if PyORAM is installed in this way. Also, note that use of the sudo command is no longer necessary (and should be avoided) once a virtual environment is activated in the current shell.

  • If you have trouble installing the cryptography package on OS X with PyPy: stackoverflow.

  • If you encounter the dreaded “unable to find vcvarsall.bat” error when installing packages with C extensions through pip on Windows: blog post.

Tools Available (So Far)

Encrypted block storage

  • The basic building block for any ORAM implementation.
  • Available storage interfaces include:
    • local storage using a file, a memory-mapped file, or RAM
      • Dropbox
    • cloud storage using SFTP (requires SSH access to a server)
      • Amazon EC2
      • Microsoft Azure
      • Google Cloud Platform
    • cloud storage using Amazon Simple Storage Service (S3)
  • See Examples:
    • examples/
    • examples/
    • examples/
    • examples/
    • examples/


  • Reference: Stefanov et al.
  • Generalized to work over k-kary storage heaps. Default settings use a binary storage heap and bucket size parameter set to 4. Using a k-ary storage heap can reduce the access cost; however, stash size behavior has not been formally analyzed in this setting.
  • Tree-Top caching can be used to reduce data transmission per access as well as reduce access latency by exploiting parallelism across independent sub-heaps below the last cached heap level.
  • See Examples:
    • examples/
    • examples/
    • examples/
    • examples/
    • examples/

Performance Tips

Setup Storage Locally

Storage schemes such as BlockStorageFile (“file”), BlockStorageMMap (“mmap”), BlockStorageRAM (“ram”), and BlockStorageSFTP (“sftp”) all employ the same underlying storage format. Thus, an oblivious storage scheme can be initialized locally and then transferred to an external storage location and accessed via BlockStorageSFTP using SSH login credentials. See the following pair of files for an example of this:

  • examples/
  • examples/

BlockStorageS3 (“s3”) employs a different format whereby the underlying blocks are stored in separate “file” objects. This design is due to the fact that the Amazon S3 API does not allow modifications to a specific byte range within a file, but instead requires that the entire modified file object be re-uploaded. Thus, any efficient block storage scheme must use separate “file” objects for each block.

Tree-Top Caching

For schemes that employ a storage heap (such as Path ORAM), tree-top caching provides the ability to parallelize I/O operations across the independent sub-heaps below the last cached heap level. The default behavior of this implementation of Path ORAM, for instance, caches the top three levels of the storage heap in RAM, which creates eight independent sub-heaps across which write operations can be asynchronous.

If the underlying storage is being accessed through SFTP, the tree-top cached storage heap will attempt to open an independent SFTP session for each sub-heap using the same SSH connection. Typically, the maximum number of allowable sessions associated with a single SSH connection is limited by the SSH server. For instance, the default maximum number of sessions allowed by a server using OpenSSH is 10. Thus, increasing the number of cached levels beyond 3 when using a binary storage heap will attempt to generate 16 or more SFTP sessions and result in an error such as:

paramiko.ssh_exception.ChannelException: (1, 'Administratively prohibited')

There are two options for avoiding this error:

  1. If you have administrative privileges on the server, you can increase the maximum number of allowed sessions for a single SSH connection. For example, to set the maximum allowed sessions to 128 on a server using OpenSSH, one would set:

    MaxSessions 128

    in /etc/ssh/sshd_config, and then run the command sudo service ssh restart.

  2. You can limit the number of concurrent devices that will be created by setting the concurrency level to something below the last cached level using the concurrency_level keyword. For example, the settings cached_levels=5 and concurrency_level=0 would cache the top 5 levels of the storage heap locally, but all external I/O operations would take place through a single storage device (e.g., using 1 SFTP session).

Project details

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